Can You be a Technical Writer?

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glassesDescribing a Technical Writer

If you have a knack for writing well, and you’re a lover of learning, you might just have what it takes to become a technical writer. The purpose of technical writing is to deliver quality technical communication that users may use efficiently, effectively, and safely. So, the two most important skills a successful technical writer must have are an ability to write precisely—saying exactly what you mean—and an ability to work with others to ensure your meaning is accurate. This means technical writers must be naturally

  • Detail oriented
  • Curious
  • Collaborative
  • Confident

Obviously, to deliver precise information to the audience, technical writers must pay close attention to detail. They must have the ability to judge grammatical and mechanical correctness, but they must also evaluate word choices and even organization. They must pay attention to every aspect of a technical document, not just the words on the page. In order to help readers access information efficiently and effectively, technical writers must also consider the design of the information, evaluate the colors and icons used, and be able to follow directions well.

Technical writers don’t often write about their area of expertise. That is, most of us are trained writers, rather than engineers, scientists, or developers. So, technical writers must have a natural curiosity. They have to want to learn the topics about which they write, so they can more accurately deliver effective information. This means technical writers must be analytical readers, but they must also establish rapport with subject matter experts and intelligently interview them.

Because technical writers depend on others for information, they must be team-oriented, collaborative people. They must know how to ask questions—the right questions—to get the information they need, and they must know how to guide subject matter experts through appropriate documentation techniques and practices. Technical writing is highly collaborative, so technical writers must be “people persons.”

Many technical experts don’t fully appreciate the need for technical writers. For this reason, technical communicators must be confident of what they do and why they do it. They must be able to explain the choices they make and negotiate or compromise where possible. Tech writers also must have the strength of character to offer expert insight throughout the collaborative process.

Becoming a Technical Writer

Aspiring technical writers have many avenues by which to achieve their goals. Presently, they may enroll in technical writing courses from colleges and universities to obtain either a technical writing certificate or an undergraduate or graduate degree in technical writing. These courses are offered via classroom and online locations.

Another option for learning the technical writing craft is trial-by-fire. Technical writers can learn on the job, although they should seek a trained mentor to ensure they’re applying the stylistic techniques and conventions currently practiced in the industry.